L/Sgt James Bance (1894 – 1917)

Unlike the Bowen cousins, the two Bance men commemorated on the Platt War Memorial were brothers who were tragically killed within two months of each other. Bance families had lived in the district for over a century and were reasonably numerous around the parish by the start of the Great War. Eight of them saw overseas service between 1914 and 1918.

James Bance was born in Crouch on 8 October 1894. He was the eldest of five children of Thomas, a paper mill labourer from Platt, and his wife, Louisa Adams, who was from Stepney in London. He was baptised in Platt Church on 9 December but grew up in Borough Green at Spencers Cottages on Station Road. James’ father died aged 30 in 1902, but nine years later, his mother remarried George Broad. In the years immediately before the war, James worked as a millhand with his mother, step-sister and brother Thomas and moved to Haxell’s Cottages in the Platt Brickfields.

James enlisted at Maidstone on 29 August 1914 with Albert Edward Rayfield from Crouch and joined the 11th (Service) Battalion, The King’s Royal Rifle Corps. The battalion had been raised at Winchester in September 1914 as part of Kitchener’s Second New Army (K2) and formed part of the 59th Brigade in the 20th (Light) Division. The two Platt locals were sent for training at Blackdown before moving in February 1915 to Witley and then onwards to Larkhill in April. They were both posted to France on 21 July 1915, where they disembarked at Boulogne and proceeded to the Saint-Omer area, where the division was concentrating. On 4 February, before going overseas, James married a local girl named Ada Elizabeth Durrant at Platt Church, and a son named George James was born the following month.

Unfortunately, James’s service records have not survived; however, he would have been in the Ypres Salient between February and July 1916, after which the battalion was sent to the Somme, where they found themselves entrenched opposite Guillemont at the end of August. On 3 September, James probably took part in an attack on the village that claimed the life of a stretcher-bearer in ‘A’ Company from Basted named Reginald Thorndycraft and would have seen further action at the Battles of Flers-Courcelette, Morval and finally Le Transloy.

On 4 April 1917, the Rifles took the village of Metz with the loss of 29 killed and 100 wounded. They also captured 60 prisoners, four machine guns and three trench mortars. By early June, the battalion was based northeast of Baupaume near the village of Noreuil. During this particular tour, one night, two companies situated on the front line came under trench mortar fire, and it appears that in one of these attacks, James was mortally wounded and died on the 9th.

Sadly, like his brother Thomas, who lost his life at the Second Battle of Gaza in April 1917, James’ body was either never recovered or later identified. Consequently, he is commemorated in Bay 7 of the Arras Memorial.